ARLINGTON (AP) – Justin Verlander says it’s May. Yu Darvish says it’s not the first great opposing pitcher he’s faced, and won’t be his last.
True on all counts. These showdowns don’t come along every day, though. And this one — the AL’s strikeout king against his potential heir — is an enticing as they come.
The hard-throwing right-handers from Detroit and Texas will meet Thursday night in a billing that really hasn’t been matched in Arlington since Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens faced off at old Arlington Stadium in 1989 — five years before Rangers Ballpark opened.
“That’s pretty good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I would say that would be pretty interesting, I would think.”
You would think. But you wouldn’t be Verlander, the staff ace for Detroit. Or Darvish, the Rangers’ second-year star. Or Texas manager Ron Washington.
“In May, getting excited, I try not to,” Washington said. “It’s great for the fans. If it doesn’t go in our favor, it doesn’t end our season. If Verlander has his stuff, it will be a long night. If Darvish has his stuff, it will be a long night. By long night, I mean runs will be at a premium, and it will be the first one to make a mistake.”
That’s pretty much the way it was on April 30, 1989, when Ryan and the Rangers beat Clemens and the Boston Red Sox 2-1. Both went eight innings. Clemens gave up six hits with six strikeouts. Ryan limited the Red Sox to three hits and fanned 11.
Ryan is now the CEO in Texas, and figures to be watching from his usual seat in the first row near home plate.
“It’s a nice matchup,” Leyland said. “It’s good for baseball.”
Darvish is baseball’s strikeout leader with 80 and on pace for 300, which hasn’t been reached since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it as Arizona teammates in 2002. Verlander has been the AL’s strikeout leader three of the past four seasons.
Verlander doesn’t push 100 mph on the radar gun quite as much as he used to, but always seems to find the velocity he needs in big moments.
Darvish can hit 95 mph and beyond, but the Japanese star is known more for varying speeds on his fastball and an array of pitches that had him within an out of a perfect game in his first start of the season at Houston.
“I saw him pitch last year a couple times,” Verlander said. “I know he’s striking out the world this year, but other than that, I haven’t seen too much.”
By their standards, both starters are coming off subpar games.
Darvish gave up two home runs and fell behind 3-1 in a rematch with the light-hitting Astros, but improved to 6-1 when the Rangers rallied and won 8-7 despite a leaky Texas bullpen. He “only” had eight strikeouts in seven innings after getting 14 for the second time this season in his previous start. He’s had at least 10 strikeouts four times.
Verlander had his worst outing of the year in a 7-6 loss to Cleveland, giving up six hits and four runs — three earned — in just five innings. He walked a season-high five and struck out seven.
Still, Verlander (4-3) has the edge over Darvish in ERA, 1.93 to 2.73.
“When I made the decision to come to the big leagues, I knew that I was going to be facing a lot of great pitchers,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t just thinking Verlander but there are many other great pitchers as well.”
And Verlander isn’t just thinking Darvish, or big matchup, especially this early.
“You don’t need to get too amped up, especially for a game in May, and try to do too much,” Verlander said. “That’s the wrong way to approach it.”
Washington sees the same approach from his prized ace-in-the-making.
“Because he’s a competitor, he knows who’s on the other side,” Washington said. “But to stick your chest out and say, `I relish that,’ it’s a game in May. He wants to win it as bad as Verlander wants to win it, but it’s certainly not a championship or World Series matchup. It’s just a ballgame that’s on the schedule.”
But it is at least a little special.
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